Awakening, Consciousness, Culture, Reality, Spirituality, The Ego, Truth

Truth Takes No Sides

Writing about truth can feel repetitive. We chase our tails in a great circle trying to tidy truth into a package, yet find ourselves met with an impossible task: The closing of one circle immediately generates another circle within and/or outside, and this occurs until words like “inside” and “outside” lose all meaning. Here we must again bow our heads to the Unspeakable. We can revel in it, allow it to pulse through and brighten our cells, but we cannot replicate it without at first compromising it. Every definitive statement on God births a new God to explain; any smart 8-year-old knows this when they ask who God’s mother is. The logical mind finds its edges very quickly in this way.

Truly we neither contract or expand, though we may use such words for practical reasons. We are always going as much as inward as we are going outward; a Mandelbrot set illustrates this principle in a beautiful way. Mathematical models fail where computers hit their limitations, but nature knows not these limits, or any limits whatsoever. We are living in (and as) an endless fractal and bear witness to divine math every day. The structures of our blood vessels mirror naked tree branches which mirror systems of rivers. The trees have eyes; the eyes are held in place with spidery veins and sinews. In winter we see that our breath makes fog and fog is when clouds kiss the Earth. All that is natural has the mark of repetition, but no two things are exactly alike: In external expression, God is never the same twice.

It is clear that the physicist or mathematician loves God as much as any nun. They only happen to find their satisfaction with the Universe in numbers rather than in heart, song, or tradition. Neither is “better” or “closer” to what is true, and I find that numbers can be as elegant as music or art. Still, there is no way to judge by title who is most soulful: A preacher who finds himself becoming rote in his sermons is less in God than a passionate gas station attendant. An artist who creates for social praise is less in God than a child playing alone in her bedroom. The soul has no interest in the realm of labels and rankings; it strikes us equally no matter what others are watching, and bestows wealth in spades to those who appear poor and unknown.

This is not a hard rule either: One can be destitute in all ways (spirit and finance), rich in all ways, or rich in one yet poor in the other. There are more permutations for consciousness than we are able to dream up. We can say confidently, however, that a gold soul trumps all, and chasing money beyond one’s needs is both a symptom and cause of spiritual poverty. When we seek to “use” spiritual laws to enrich who we dream ourselves up to be, we are headed for disaster. It seems there is a growing trend to believe we can be made happy by using visualization and meditation to become materially well-off. Much of this discussion is couched in spiritual jargon, but its root is still the unconscious ego, which seeks to maintain that it is real at all costs. The problem, of course, is that it isn’t ultimately real, and until this fact is made experientially permanent, we live as hungry ghosts.

If it is the assumed identity we are appeasing and not the soul, our prize will forever be dissatisfaction.

Is the human body one organism, or is it an aggregate of trillions of cells working in unison? Is this body-mind its own cell within the greater organism of the human species, or does it stand alone and apart? Common sense points us to answer “both,” and as usual, this simple response is correct. Living life fully comes down to this common sense, of sharpening the mundane yet irreplaceable capacity to hold two different—even seemingly opposite—views within one encompassing awareness. We see all “sides” and we see, too, uncompromising Reality, which has no sides and takes no sides and laughs at the very idea of “sides.” One who dwells in truth knows this well and can be full of contradictions.

And when we catch ourselves mired in questions of “or” when it comes to God, we know we are overthinking: Is God within, or is God outside of us? Is God in Heaven, or is God on Earth? Is God accessible here, or at a temple? Again, we know the answer is “both,” but it is not often that we live from this answer. In awakening, we see that the answer is always both and are magnetized to a way of being that integrates us into a life of said “bothness:” Can I be both serious and playful? Can I be both intense and soft? Can I be both lazy and prolific? Can I see the sickness in the world and belong to it with love? The answer to all of these is yes; you can be all these things and more at once. One who is dynamic represents the fluid ideal of humankind. The only “both” we cannot have is ego—the sincere belief in the individual “me” with its petty wants—and enlightenment.

When I first started listening to spiritual teachers and reading spiritual books, I got confused because I was still trying to use logic: If this thing isn’t a sensation, a concept, or a feeling, and I am not a writer, a woman, or a person… what the hell is it and who the hell am I? That really is the question. It’s like you immaturely fall back to Philosophy 101: Who am I? What is the point of all this? Is there a meaning? What is it? Why? Most adults have learned to find sufficient mental answers and continue on as normal. But when the ego begins to die, none of these answers work; herein lies the crux of an existential crisis. You find that even in a previous “exploratory” phase of life, you did not uncover any real answers. Truth is the seed of philosophy but it is not a philosophy, and seeing it requires a complete renunciation of all former philosophies.

So, who are you? The intellectual answer is easy, but that’s not what it’s about. If knowing the “right” intellectual answer solved it, we would already be living in a Heaven on Earth.

Those who listen to spiritual teachers often look for the “category” in which to put them so that they can affirm their existing mode of thought: Does the guru agree with my politics? Is the wise person of the same views as I am? But those who know truth will not line up with your cherished opinions. They will often refuse to bolster the beliefs you align yourself with because beliefs are illusory things the ego affixes itself to in order to feel more real.

They do not take seriously the ways we cut ourselves off from one another: You may call yourself a Republican or a Democrat or an anarchist or a capitalist or any other “kind of person.” But one who is true sees you primarily as human and knows the vast potential locked inside of you, beneath all -isms and -ists. To them you are a God-in-process; they are constantly on the lookout for your innermost light, which shines through even the deepest ignorance. If we aspire to be more conscious people, we must accept that our responsibility is to do exactly this. When we engage with those who seem ignorant, egotistical, or even harmful, we are at our most powerful when we attend only to their glimmers of light. It is not my assertion that this is easy—it humbles and challenges our own egos, which is also why it is a great practice. Truth cannot be argued to and consciousness can never be forced. At best, it can be drawn out when we see it emerging. Our goal in interactions is to find these kernels of true self, which is always pure and perfect, and focus on them. If this feels impossible, it is best to leave.

Even if one’s light is buried under too many layers of delusion to make an immediate change, this strategy still works. Bringing awareness into daily life is like adding a few drops of clean water to a polluted lake: Little by little, even if it is not noticeable, this clean water dilutes the pollution until the water is purified. We seek to be pure awareness in the poisoned collective mind, knowing that this is the best we can do to affect change in the world. There is an unbelievable amount of poison out there. This makes it that much more urgent to stabilize in purity and take it wherever you go, whenever it is possible.

– lish

Consciousness, Meditation, Spirituality, Suffering, The Mind, The Soul, Truth

Soul Over Mind

If your soul feels split, it is not the soul you are dealing with. The soul exists in one form only, and it is utterly indivisible, cut off from no thing and no one. It is never confused.

Similarly there is only one direction the soul is ever seeking to move, and that is into a fuller, clearer version of itself. Once you begin taking steps in true alignment with the soul, you are embarking on a voyage that begets only more fullness, more clarity, and more certainty. Over time all doubt dissolves. There is no end to this inward travel when it is undertaken sincerely.

It is like this: Perhaps in a moment of courage you decide to part from the familiar world and set out onto the ocean of yourself. You float out on a raft, but it is not an adequate vessel. The raft deflates; your clothing shreds; you shiver and gulp back saltwater and then the ocean of yourself hurls you off the edge of the Earth. In this space, you are adrift within incomprehensible dimensions, perhaps trying to broadcast what you’re witnessing to those still on shore. They will not be able to decipher your words, and they may call you crazy. Perhaps a few will understand what you mean, but you’re not likely to see them again. Two people who wish to teach their common language to the world won’t waste much time speaking to each other.

You know from the stories that there must be something good in the end, and I assure you that there is. It is the Truth, and it is so good that I feel foolish even trying to use words for it. Maybe, if you’re new to the path, you want to know if there is a way to sidestep the near-drowning and the insanity to get to this thing that is beyond good. My unsettling answer is I don’t know. The path will have more challenges than you can currently fathom, that much is sure, but each person requires a unique treatment before they see what is Real.

For me, catastrophe was necessary. I cannot say what will be necessary for you.

The soul does not pine for particular people or things, but for itself, forever and ever. In its infinite knowing, it does always gravitate towards those people and situations which deepen its awareness of itself in some way. The lovers you can’t explain, the habits you can’t drop, the patterns you keep repeating… there is an unconscious game being played here. The soul always knows what it is doing and exactly how the game will end, even if you don’t.

Couched within all of your unconsciousness, there is a narrow passageway of supreme consciousness, the heights of which will put your mind to shame. This is where the soul dwells; this is what the soul is. It calls the shots whether you like it or not, and its only concern is guiding you towards It. It has no regard for how you think life should go, what you think is right, or what your plans were. All of these things are meaningless without a commitment to what is true. The fully conscious soul is what moves you, through layers and layers of pain and paradox, just waiting for the moment when you will discover it. And you will discover it. There is no grand scheme other than this divine hide-and-seek.

If you’re not sure what you want out of life—or if getting what you want brings stress and emotional pain—it is because you’re letting your mind run the show instead of your soul. This is the default way to “live,” by the way, even when one considers themself to be spiritual. “Live” in is quotations because I have learned that when we behave according to the whims and apparitions of the conditioned mind, it is not living. It is madness.

Sometimes in spirituality it may seem as if we’re speaking negatively of “the mind” or of “thinking.” After all the point of meditation is to still and settle the constant swarm of thoughts. Such thoughts cloud us up without our say so. In no time we’re drowning, and this drowning looks like neurotic attachment, chronic depression, self- and other-abuse, extreme confusion, emotional paralysis, boredom, numbness, and anything else internally unpleasant. Outside of the being, we see the related behaviors that, when taken together, create the mess we see around us.

This is why it is necessary for the soul to consciously preside over the mind. At present, we live in backwards fashion: For the vast majority, the semi-conscious mind is allowed to preside over the soul. This has been going on for a long time. We keep looking for answers in this state of half-consciousness, but this is like trying to build a home with a shovel. As long as this mind is the most common mind, complete extinction is assured. Space exploration is pointless and immature if there are still children starving to death on our planet.

We do not mean to discourage critical thought or asking, not at all. On the contrary: These are the best functions of the mind. Meditation is about the simple recognition of the fact that the mind, when not viewed from a safe distance, creates great suffering within us and in others. As always, the quality of one’s life depends heavily on what they identify with, what they see themselves as. Abiding as Truth—as formless, clear, dynamic emptiness—the mind is a boon. Here is where we say what needs to be said and do what needs to be done. Here the mind is a pocketknife and you the deft outdoorsman.

When we make the mistake of believing we are the mind, we step immediately into hostile territory. That is because the mind is not solid. This generator of thoughts is itself a thought. In essence, what we are doing is mistaking ourselves for a passing mist. No wonder we tend to live so vacantly: We have not yet accepted that we are real and alive, because the thing we think we are is not ultimately real.

The practice of meditation exists to create a gap between your soul and your mind. After all, the mind is meant to be a tool. It should exist in service to the real You, not the phantom-you. Learning to look at your mind from a distance is like the difference between sitting in a traffic jam and being in an airplane, looking down on said traffic jam. The former brings with it frustration and stress. The latter is fine, perhaps even a bit cute.

As I said in my last post, honest questions—those that are asked not with the goal of validation or “for the sake of argument”—are a sign of humility. When we are curious and thirsty for Truth, we admit we are still in process. This is beautiful, for there is no greater obstacle to realizing the Truth than believing you already have it.

In any case, “having” can never be a word that describes one’s relationship to Truth. You can have a religious belief, but you cannot have Truth. Possession is something that occurs in this physical world, within our psyches, and yet it is illusory. Everything you falsely believe is yours will dissolve at once in death. If you find this depressing, it is only because you do not yet know yourself. The moment of death, whether met with ecstasy or extreme fear, is when we discover what is truly “ours.”

And because possession is illusory, it has no place in the spiritual life. Many sages and buddhas are quite happy to have Nothing at all. Relinquishing possessions and worldly items is not done for the sake of nobility—indeed they understand that there is truly nothing they are giving up. They are happiest with very little, for their bodies alone are made of unending verses. They are like fruit trees that are always in season: No matter how much they get rid of, more comes back. What they “have,” you cannot take, even if you were to kill them. In the soul, riches flow with such abundance that material items actually become burdensome. This is the glory that awaits us all. In fact, it is already here.

– Lish


Awakening, Consciousness, Reality, Spirituality

Releasing the Need to be “Understood”

I have begun the slow process of emptying my apartment of its things. My last day of waiting tables will be Dec. 31st, which feels fitting and practical. I’m getting really excited, and I really don’t feel as anxious or harried as I thought I would. As soon as the choice was clear in my mind, I just started dropping a bunch of lingering hangups and fears. Soon I will be in the place I need to be, following my heart in order to deepen my awareness of consciousness, which is really All There Is.

Of course I’m aware that moving to an ashram to potentially pursue monkhood is not a decision everyone will understand, and being “understood” once felt really important to me. I had this deep, unquenchable desire to “connect,” largely because I almost never felt connected to other people. It was a kind of Hell to feel so far away and unable to be “gotten” by others. However, when we are deeply assured of what we know and who we are—when all doubt has been removed about our truths—being understood is no longer a concern. We even see that it’s a significant obstacle to desire intellectual understanding of the path and for others to understand you.

Here’s why: They won’t. This is not true of everyone, and this is not meant to be any kind of condescending “my spirituality’s deep/they don’t get it” statement. Spirituality is actually very simple. Everyone gets it on some level. But I speak from experience in saying that if you wake up to ultimate Reality, if you change too fast, if you lose your mind, if you try to share with others what really happened when you lost your mind, if you become really open and unafraid and unstable… there are likely to be only a few precious individuals who really see what you’re going through. Very few will allow your process without judgment, and this is not their fault. People will judge (while saying to your face that they’re not judging); they will question and demand explanations and tell you to take more time and think and slow down and say that they are worried. This really does come from a caring place, and remember: You’ve been judgmental, too; it is a mental pattern that takes a lot of conscious effort to overcome.

Your job is to be okay with others’ lack of understanding, to carry the disapproval and concern wisely. (FYI: I did not do this.) Your job is to be decisive about what you need to do—it really is the waffling that creates problems. This waffling is what we call “resistance to the soul:” When we go back and forth about how we’re living now, it creates an unnecessary battle within. Higher consciousness (your heart and soul) is like a surge of water trying to burst through a dam. Your mind, with all its fears and rationalizations, is the dam. The pressure and cognitive dissonance arises only because you are resisting growth, albeit unconsciously. And I know this isn’t fun to hear, but when you feel stuck, the answer is almost always to give up the thing you think you can’t give up and to do the things you think you can’t do. All the while there must be a very sure, unshakable decision: I’m doing what my soul needs to do. Then you should try to not go back on your choices, even though a lot of well-meaning people may suggest that you do.

Being human, you probably will go back on your soul choice a few (or a million) times. I’ve done it more times than I can count. The conditioned mind is stubborn and it is used to being in charge; it does not want to relinquish its “control.” To truly follow your heart is to march through a field of intense fear, all by yourself, perhaps for a very long time. It is not glamorous and almost no one will reward you for it. Most of us do not follow our hearts. We follow others and we follow our conditioned minds, no matter how much trouble they get us into. Fear will try to goad you back into doing something conventional and safe, but your soul will always to try and pull you back into the unknown. Yes, it is scary. We are all afraid of what we don’t know, but the unknown is where our true selves dwell, so we have to take that leap. We cannot allow the threat of discomfort to make our life decisions.

Eventually, if you’re having an awakening, this struggle will subside. If you calmly (and resolutely) do what is needed, it will become clear that whatever happened during the most intense phases of awakening weren’t merely due to a “fluke” or a “hard time.” They were part of a transition—even if a turbulent one—into a new way of being.

Also, if you keep saying “yes” to your soul, the conditioned mind will start to back off as well. Once it gets the message that fear tactics won’t work because you’re going to keep surrendering, it will become quieter and begin to defer to you.

I think I’ve (finally) shed the expectation/desire to be “understood,” but I still want to write about my choice, because in it there are a lot of greater implications:

From the outside, the life of a monk probably looks suppressive or austere or regimented or any other number of words that means “restrictive.” The funniest thing about this is that the spiritual life feels like the exact opposite: You’re just totally free and happy. You laugh easily and nothing is mean-spirited. There’s nothing to worry about because you know you can’t die and that this world is but a divine play created by the mind. You have basic trust in others and in the universe. Also: Living in this freedom is the best thing for the rest of the world, even if you appear to be “doing nothing.” You move freely, think freely, and speak freely and without fear. You aren’t censoring or restricting yourself, but you’re not “out of control” either. I actually avoid spiritual traditions that are restrictive or commanding, and I always have. This is indicative of fear—”God won’t love us unless…”—and lack of trust in our ability to conduct ourselves reasonably. Also, the “goal” of the path is liberation, through and through. Rules can’t get you there, though self-discipline can. These are completely different things.

There is a belief in a lot of people that without a bunch of laws and mental checks and balances, we’d all be behaving savagely. This is an insult to humanity, again going back to how small and limited and weak we imagine ourselves to be. We—like the rest of the animal kingdom—know innately how to live if given an appropriate, natural environment. It is only because we have so far removed ourselves from a nurturing environment that we’re collectively ridden with such extreme problems. When people are raised safely and with unconditional acceptance, they do not tend to become abusive or greedy or miserly or power-hungry. One goal of spiritual revolution is to create a world where everyone treats everyone like loving family. This isn’t a moralistic, fuzzy thing we’re talking about; it is only practical.

So, even though there are “rules” at this ashram—chiefly sobriety, vegetarianism, and celibacy—abiding by these rules doesn’t require the exertion of willpower (for me anyway). I didn’t get the sense that anybody was suffering through their meatless meals or trying super hard not to sleep with one another. It’s just like with sobriety now—it almost never crosses my mind to drink anymore. It’s just the way it is and I am pleased with it. Life at the ashram all felt very natural and in-flow; it felt better than what we call “normal” life, which is very much not-free and often pretty mechanical-feeling. I knew I was there to work and grow spiritually, and everyone just seemed to value a simple, healthy way of life.

There are a lot more reasons for why I’ve chosen to take this step, but for now I think I’ll just say that it’s about freedom, plain and simple, and the awareness that freedom is necessarily an internal state.

– Lish